Rio Olympics off with a bang in rifle event
Hong Kong team joins the Games opening party in Brazil as American teenager pips Chinese pair to claim shooting gold
Against a backdrop of economic and political turmoil in Brazil, the 2016 Olympic Games opened in Rio Janeiro yesterday with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach appealing for unity in a troubled world.
Watched by an estimated global audience of close to three billion, Rio organisers produced a stunning spectacle at fabled Maracana Stadium that attacked senses right from the start with digital imagery previously unseen on such a grand scale.
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It may have paled in comparison to the outrageous sums spent on Beijing’s opening ceremony in 2008 (US$100 million) and London (US$41.5 million) in 2012, but Brazil knows how to party – if you were invited.
In the city’s thousands of favelas, life was the just same – trying to stay alive in the face of gang violence, hunger, disease and pollution.
The Hong Kong and China teams are immune to the “real” Rio, confined to the Athletes’ Village and concentrating on the task at hand – winning medals over the next two weeks.
And China started the Games with a bang, even though it wasn’t gold, in the women’s air rifle by winning two medals.
Nineteen-year-old Virginia Thrasher of the United States claimed the first Rio gold medal with her final shot in the women’s 10m air rifle event, holding her nerve to see off China’s Du Li.
Thrasher finished with 208 points, one clear of 2004 Athens champion Du. Yi Siling, the defending Olympic champion who won the first gold for China in London 2012, managed to secure bronze.
Yi was bang in contention to successfully defend her 2012 crown, but sharp shooting saw Thrasher and Du go head to head, with the American, displaying maturity beyond her years, edging it.
Du, who only returned to competition last year, said the result was unbelievable after she failed to win a medal at the London Games. “I did have some expectations before the competition but also knew it would be very difficult,” Du said.
“I am always a slow starter and want to play a bit safer with higher accuracy. But the American did an exceptional job today. I have felt a bit tired since yesterday as I have been in Brazil for a couple of days, but since this is the Olympics and you don’t have too many opportunities, that’s why I keep hanging on.”
The mainland athletes, decked out in their familiar red and yellow outfits, are China’s largest delegation (711, including 416 athletes) in Olympic history – outside the 2008 Beijing Games – of whom 35 are trying to defend their Olympic crowns.
The 41-strong Hong Kong delegation, led at the opening ceremony by swimmer Stephanie Au Hoi-shun, comprises 22 athletes and 19 officials.
“You can always trust the Brazilians to put on a great party, that’s what we did – joined a flamboyant party today,” Hong Kong chef de mission Kenneth Fok Kai-kong said.
Hit with massive budget cuts, beleaguered organisers still staged an intimate party with samba music, spinning lights and wild dancing, capped by stunning supermodel Gisele Bundchen cascading across the entire length of the stadium to the tune of The Girl from Ipanema.